Fourteen months after Delaware County activated a system that allowed it to receive text messages at its 911 center, the public still is being reminded to "call if you can, text if you can't" during an emergency.

Patrick Brandt, director of the county's emergency communications department, said when someone does text 911 during an emergency, dispatchers can respond and continue communicating with the sender via text.

The system is designed to allow someone to seek help during an emergency when speaking isn't possible or they have reason to remain silent -- something Brandt said could happen if their safety is threatened.

Since the service began in April 2018, the 911 center has been contacted 46,069 times, Brandt said.

Of that number, 246 were text messages.

If a 911 text is sent while the texter is close to the county line, it's possible it could be received by a cell tower in the next county, Brandt said.

That's what happened when Delaware County received a recent 911 text from Westerville, sent during a domestic-violence incident, he said.

The information was forwarded to Franklin County, he said.

So far, the county has received no 911 texts from anyone in immediate danger -- for example, during a robbery or burglary, Brandt said.

He said some of the texts received resulted in good interaction with the person sending the text, which he characterized as vital to a effective response to an emergency.

One 911 text came from a man reporting an intoxicated person, Brandt said.

Dispatchers asked the man who sent the text to call if he was safe, which he did, and officers quickly responded, Brandt said.

The phone is the county's first choice for communication unless the caller has a compelling need to send a text, he said.

Communication is much faster by telephone, particularly when dispatchers need more information from the caller, Brandt said.

"For the most part, the (system's technology) has worked smoothly, with no problems we know of."

He said the county also is equipped to receive teletypewriter, or TTY, 911 calls from the hearing impaired.

Text-to-911 was promised to voters when a 911 services levy was approved in 2016, Brandt said.

The levy will be up for renewal in 2021.

Delaware fire Chief John Donahue, a member of the county 911 technology board, said text-to-911 is one element of the system's efforts to respond to emergencies more effectively.

"Technology has become an important part of everyone's lives, including when an emergency occurs," Donahue said. "Delaware County 911 continues to lead the industry in the use and application of technology, allowing police, fire and EMS access to additional information and providing for a faster response."

Brandt said the county has promoted text-to-911 availability on social media, during county 911 presentations to groups and during public events held by fire departments.

If a 911 caller or texter says nothing or hangs up, the 911 center is obligated to respond to the text or return the telephone call to confirm that an emergency has or has not occurred, Brandt said.

He said all major wireless carriers in the county coverage area -- Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint -- certified the service before it was instituted by the county.

While Sprint allows its customers to send text and a short video or picture to 911, Brandt said none has been received so far by the county.

He said the county's emergency communications center will receive a visit Monday, June 24, by an assessment team from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies' Communications Accreditation Program.

The visit is part of a voluntary process to gain CALEA accreditation, which Brandt called recognition of public-safety professional excellence.

Community members are invited to offer comments by calling 740-833-2965 from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 25.

Telephone comments are limited to 10 minutes and must address the agency's ability to comply with CALEA standards. A copy of the standards is available at the Delaware County Emergency Communication Center.

Written comments can be sent to Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement Inc., 13575 Heathcote Blvd., Suite 320, Gainesville, Virginia 20155.

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